Despite funding the majority of his presidential run with paltry $5 donations from everyday Americans, President-elect Barack Obama has had a slew of billionaire backers with him on his journey to the White House — plutocrats who provide economic and political advice and help to raise money. Lots of money.
Since campaign contributions are capped at $2,300 per individual and donations to the Inaugural Committee have a $50,000 limit per person, most billionaires help out by serving as "bundlers" — well-connected folks who help gather donations from family, co-workers and associates.
Obama's national finance chairwoman during his presidential campaign was Penny Pritzker, one of 11 members of the famous Chicago family that appear on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans (combined net worth as of September: $21.6 billion).
As of Nov. 24, 2008, Obama's campaign had raised a record-breaking $742 million during the election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Pritzker was considered a leading candidate for commerce secretary until she withdrew from consideration in November last year.
According to data from the Presidential Inaugural Committee, Pritzker has helped raise donations totaling $300,000 for next week's inauguration. Last year she bundled $178,782 toward Obama's presidential campaign, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Google chief executive Eric Schmidt endorsed Obama last fall and is currently a technology adviser in his transition team. Schmidt and Google co-founder Larry Page have each contributed $25,000 to the inauguration events. The New York Times recently reported that the search engine company is throwing a bipartisan bash on Inauguration Day.
Not to be outdone by their tech rivals, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and chief executive Steve Ballmer have each contributed $50,000 to the festivities.
As a Democrat, Obama enjoyed consistent support from Tinseltown tycoons. Famed Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, Dreamworks co-founder David Geffen and Star Wars creator George Lucas all threw their support behind the president-elect through campaign donations.
Geffen became one of Obama's most important early supporters. In February 2007 he famously ditched Hillary Clinton in favor of Obama at a time when Hollywood was split over the two candidates. Geffen held a fundraiser with Spielberg and Dreamworks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg in 2007 that reportedly collected $1.3 million for Obama's presidential run.
Financier Ken Griffin, leader of Chicago hedge fund Citadel, and famously left-leaning moneyman George Soros also contributed money to Obama, as has legendary investor Warren Buffett.
Buffett, America's second-richest man as of the Forbes 400 in September, supported Obama during his presidential campaign, a fact Obama often mentioned in speeches and during debates to increase his economic policy clout.
Buffett had been touted as a potential candidate for Treasury secretary at one point. He, like Schmidt, is a member of Obama's Transition Economic Advisory Board.
Obama has promised big business will not have a prominent place at the table. But with so many billionaires chipping in, can he not help but include them in policy decisions?
"When the government gets as big and powerful as it is, people with influence will maneuver to become a part of the process," said David Boaz, Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.
However Boaz believes that this will not pose an image problem for Obama.
"Obama has been so successful in raising money from both small and large contributors, and once we get past the inauguration fundraising, (billionaire's chipping in) won't be an issue," said Boaz. "What could become an issue down the road is if we find a lot of wealthy people renting a room at the White House" like so many famous moneymen did during the years of the Clinton administration.